Melanzane fritte – made with eggplants from the backyard vegie patch, just like the crumbed, fried eggplant slices that Nonna Gia and Sofie cook together in, The Proxy Bride. I’ve put these ones on one of Nanna Francesca’s plates and next to them is a little pot I bought in Italy to stand in as a ‘chilli pot’ (though I confess mine has salt in it at present!)
I hadn’t planned to include recipes at the end of this book but when I was writing about the food in it, I found myself cooking many of the dishes to remind myself of them. Since the way I learned to cook from my grandmother was mostly by watching and tasting, measurements were always a ‘handful of this’, a ‘dash of that’ and if I asked, ‘But how much?’, the answer would be a shrug and something like, ‘Just enough, of course, see?’ It was certainly interesting to try to pin down exact recipe measurements and in the end I thought it might be lovely to share these too.
You might also recognise the cornicello, that amulet of luck that can only be given as a gift, never bought for oneself. A symbol of the earth, fertility, healing and protection that’s endured from as far back as 3400BC in a long-held connection with and reverence for nature as well as humans’ reliance on it for food and survival. Looking at this picture I have to smile – eggplants, a cornicello and handed-down recipes, that’s certainly a little bit of southern Italy going on in northern Australia. 💛 Zoë xx
‘Raccavallala!’ Granny Maddalena cried out if someone stepped over a child lying on the floor – step back over it! – or you’d stunt the child’s growth. I’m currently researching Italian folklore and came across this very superstition and many others like… never put your wallet on the floor or you’ll have no money. If you accidentally put your clothes on inside out in the morning it’s good luck and you’ll receive good news. Wasting food or throwing it out brings misfortune. Remove cobwebs with your left hand for good luck.
On the cover of Mezza Italiana is Granny Maddalena’s actual corno amulet from Abruzzo that she wore on a delicate gold chain. Made of a gold likely from the 19th century when she was born, its chilli shape goes back to ancient times to ward off misfortune. Being born in Abruzzo in 1893, during her life Granny Maddalena had one foot in age-old, Pagan Italy and the other in the modern world, for she lived until the 1980s. And still in present time many Italians wear amulets and talismans for luck and protection from the malocchio – evil eye.
Beside Maddalena’s amulet are her gold earrings – given to young girls as gold was believed to protect against blindness and misfortune and interestingly because it symbolises the sun’s power and masculine energy. I have no idea how old these earrings are but Estella Canziani did paintings of similar earrings worn by peasants in Italy and France that she saw during her travels in the 1900s, including in the area of Abruzzo where Granny lived.
I hadn’t thought of it much, but since I was a little girl, I’ve had small, gold hoop earrings in my ears every day and sleep in them too, not realising until now, in my late forties, that this is such a tradition in warding off the malocchio and seeking the sun’s energy. This morning, I also accidentally put on a jacket inside out so perhaps today I’ll have good luck (though I’m still to find out if I’ll receive good news!) Hope you’re having a lovely day and remember, it’s bad luck to sweep your house after dark! xx